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What is United Nations Convention on Law of the Sea (UNCLOS)

Maritime Zones and the Law of the Sea

The rights of coastal States to claim maritime zones derive from international law, the body of law that regulates the rights and duties of countries recognized by international law. The law of the sea is governed by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which defines all the maritime zones.


Baseline

All maritime zones of a country are measure from its baseline. Although UNCLOS gives guidance on how a country should draw its baseline most of the countries join the points along with their coast corresponding to the Lowest Astronomical Tide (LAT) to draw their baseline and this is also accepted.


Internal Waters

All the part of the country, which is on the LAND side of the baseline is called Internal Waters and includes rivers, estuaries, lakes, etc. Within the Internal Waters, no one can enter and a ship DOES NOT have the right to innocent passage.


Territorial Sea (TS)

Territorial Sea extends up to 12 nautical miles from the baseline. Within this is the zone the country has TERRITORIAL SOVEREIGNTY – this means that this zone is PART of the TERRITORY of the country and the country is at complete freedom to do what it wants because the law of the country is applicable within this zone (the law of the Port State). When a country signs for UNCLOS, the Territorial Sea is automatically attached to it.


Contiguous Zone (CZ)

The Contiguous Zone (CZ) of a country extends up to 24 nautical miles from the baseline. Within this zone (basically 12 – 24 nautical miles because 0 – 12 nautical miles overlaps with the Territorial Sea, which is the territory of a country) a country can CLAIM SOVEREIGN RIGHTS for customs, fiscal, immigration and health enforcement purposes – sovereign rights mean that it is NOT part of the territory of a country but the country has claimed specific rights ONLY for the above mentioned four very specific purposes. The CZ has to be CLAIMED by a country with an application to the Division of Law of the Sea (DOLOS) at the United Nations (UN) headquarters in New York. There are only 69 countries that have claimed their CZ, including India.


Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ)

The Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of a country extends up to 200 nautical miles from the baseline. Within this zone (basically 12 – 200 nautical miles because 0 – 12 nautical miles overlaps with the Territorial Sea, which is the territory of a country) a country can CLAIM SOVEREIGN RIGHTS for exploration and exploitation of the marine resources for its own commercial purposes. Exploration and exploitation of marine resources mean oil, gas exploration, fishing, etc. - sovereign rights mean that it is NOT part of the territory of a country but the country has claimed specific rights ONLY for the above mentioned very specific purposes. The EEZ has to be CLAIMED by a country with an application to the Division of Law of the Sea (DOLOS) at the United Nations (UN) headquarters in New York. There are only 119 countries that have claimed their EEZ, including India. When, however, the EEZ OVERLAPS between two neighboring countries, they mutually agree to a limit (which of course will be less than 200 nautical miles for each country) by way of signing a bilateral treaty.


Continental Shelf (CS)

The Continental Shelf (CS) of a country extends up to 350 nautical miles from the baseline. Within this zone (basically 12 – 350 nautical miles because 0 – 12 nautical miles overlaps with the Territorial Sea, which is the territory of a country) a country can CLAIM SOVEREIGN RIGHTS for seabed mining and conducting marine scientific research The term "continental shelf" is generally taken to mean that part of the continental margin between the shoreline and the shelf break or, where there is no noticeable slope, between the shoreline and the point where the depth of the super-adjacent depth of water is approximately between 100 and 200 meters. The CS has to be CLAIMED by a country with an application to the Division of Law of the Sea (DOLOS) at the United Nations (UN) headquarters in New York. There are very few countries that have claimed their CS, including India.


High Seas

The entire sea area BEYOND 350 nautical mile from any country is called the High Seas – meaning it is the Common Heritage of Mankind and NO COUNTRY CAN CLAIM ANY RIGHTS.


International Waters

International Waters should NOT be CONFUSED with High Seas. International Waters is APPLICABLE to a MERCHANT SHIP on an international voyage. We know that the coastal country’s territory extends up to 12 nautical miles (the Territorial Sea) and the law of the country is applicable here. Beyond 12 nautical miles, the coastal country ONLY CLAIMS CERTAIN RIGHTS for VERY SPECIFIC PURPOSES (it is NOT PART of the coastal country’s territory). Therefore, as far as a ship is concerned, ANY PART OF THE SEA BEYOND 12 nautical miles from a country is INTERNATIONAL WATERS and very importantly, the LAW of the FLAG STATE is APPLICABLE on the SHIP.

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